(AP) — The editor of Golfweek magazine said he was overwhelmed by negative reaction to the photo of a noose on the cover of this week’s issue, illustrating a story about the suspension of a Golf Channel anchor for using the word “lynch” in an on-air discussion about how to beat Tiger Woods.
“We knew that image would grab attention, but I didn’t anticipate the enormity of it,” Dave Seanor, vice president and editor of the weekly magazine, said from the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla.
“There’s been a huge, negative reaction,” he said. “I’ve gotten so many e-mails. It’s a little overwhelming.”
Among the critics was PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who said he found the imagery to be “outrageous and irresponsible.”
“It smacks of tabloid journalism,” Finchem said in a statement. “It was a naked attempt to inflame and keep alive an incident that was heading to an appropriate conclusion.”
Kelly Tilghman was suspended for two weeks because of comments she made during the second round of the Mercedes-Benz Championship, when she and analyst Nick Faldo were discussing young challengers to Woods.
Faldo suggested that “to take Tiger on, maybe they should just gang up (on him) for a while.”
“Lynch him in a back alley,” Tilghman replied.
Tilghman said she apologized directly to the world’s No. 1 player, and Woods’ agent issued a statement that said it was a non-issue.
Seanor said editors at the magazine debated several choices for a cover, and he took responsibility for the noose. The title of the cover is “Caught in a Noose,” with a sub-title, “Tilghman slips up, and Golf Channel can’t wriggle free.”
Golf Channel didn’t deal with Tilghman’s comments until Newsday in New York first wrote about the “lynch” reference three days after the broadcast. The suspension was announced shortly after the Rev. Al Sharpton demanded on CNN that Tilghman be fired.
“We’re a weekly news magazine. The big story of the previous week was Kelly Tilghman, and that’s what we chose,” Seanor said. “How to illustrate that? It was tough. Do you put Kelly Tilghman out there? But was it so much about her or the uproar?
“This is emblematic of why people were so offended.”
The Golfweek staff previously had scheduled a meeting with PGA Tour officials Thursday morning, and Seanor said the noose quickly became “item 1-A” on their agenda.
He said dozens of customers at the merchandise show stopped by the Golfweek stand and put an issue in their bag, with some stopping to discuss and complain.
“Most people who are objecting to it — within the golf industry — are saying this episode was just above over,” Seanor said. “I think it’s indicative of how, when you bring race and golf into the same sentence, everyone recoils.”
Seanor said he was struck by the paucity of black customers among the thousands of people at golf’s largest merchandise exposition.
“Look at the executive suites at the PGA Tour, or the USGA, or the PGA of America. There are very, very few people of color there,” he said. “This is a situation in golf where there needs to be more dialogue. And when you get more dialogue, people don’t want to hear it, and they brush it under the rug. This is a source of a lot of pushback.”
Seanor said he expected canceled subscriptions over the issue. He was not sure how it would affect advertising. Golfweek is published by Orlando-based Turnstile Publishing Co.
Asked if he regretted the cover, Seanor paused before answering.
“I wish we could have come up with something that made the same statement but didn’t create as much negative reaction,” he said. “But as this has unfolded, I’m glad there’s dialogue. Let’s talk about this, and the lack of diversity in golf.”
He denied the cover was an attempt to sell more magazines, noting that Golfweek is 99 percent subscriptions.
“I was a little shocked by the commissioner’s reaction,” he said. “It was rather strong, particularly from someone who rarely comments on things on his own tour.”
The day after Tilghman was suspended, Finchem said it was clear the Golf Channel was “was taking this unfortunate incident very seriously.”
“Over the years, many PGA Tour players and staff have had the chance to get to know Kelly,” he said. “Knowing her, her comment seems to us to be very uncharacteristic and we believe it was completely inadvertent. We have no reason to believe that she was intentionally malicious in her remark.”
Golfweek is one of two weekly magazines devoted entirely to golf.
Golf World, coincidentally put on its cover this week a photo of Bill Spiller, one of the black pioneers in the sport, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of his push to integrate the PGA Tour.